Returning to his more plot-heavy yet still quite emotionally gripping style of filmmaking, writer-director Pedro Almodóvar (Talk to Her, Volver, All About My Mother) brings up Julieta, the complex, time-jumping tale of a woman’s search for her long-estranged daughter. Emma Suarez plays Julieta as a middle-aged woman from Madrid, who is on the verge of pulling up stakes and moving to Portugal with her boyfriend Lorenzo (Dario Grandinetti). But just as she’s taping up the last of her boxes, she runs into one of her daughter Antia’s old friends, who relays a story of randomly running into Antia recently. With almost no explanation to Lorenzo (or the audience), Julieta changes her plans, instead moving back into the apartment where she and her daughter once lived before she left home permanently, and she begins her search for clues as to where Antia might be.
The film then jumps back in time as Julieta begins chronicling the story of her early adult life (the younger version of her is played by Adriana Ugarte), when she met a perfect specimen of a man in fisherman Xoan (Daniel Grao), and they soon had their only child before things take a turn for the worse in their small, loving family. Almodóvar has pulled together material for his film from three stories by Alice Munro (Away From Her), and the result is an epic family drama spanning decades and loaded with an array of feelings, ranging from adoration to uncut bitterness.
The flashback culminates in an 18-year-old Antia (Blanca Parés) headed off to a retreat in the Pyrenees for spiritual cleansing, and when her mother comes to pick her up, she refuses to leave or even see her to explain. So it’s no surprise that the modern-day Julieta is obsessed with reconnecting with Antia, whom she hears has children of her own now. In a nice turn, the jilted Lorenzo isn’t so easily discouraged and ends up being a key component in Julieta coming to terms with her often-painful past. Julieta is a rich, full-bodied, almost pulpy return to form for Almodóvar, who hasn’t put aside his love for rich colors and stylized production design, but he has put the story first this time around, and there’s a noticeable difference in the tone that is much appreciated, as is the return of one of the director’s favorite actors Rossy de Palma as a nosy, controlling housekeeper in the flashbacks.
Considering how much I loathed Almodóvar’s previous film, I’m So Excited!, I think I would have been happy with anything that was an improvement over that. But Julieta combines some of his favorite visual and plot elements, with a bit of Hitchcockian mystery added in for an extra level of intrigue. As a result, the character of Julieta (played wonderfully by both actresses) is one of my favorite creations of his (and Munro’s). The film is warm, sexy, tense, and stunning in its choice of locations (cinematographer Jean Claude Larrieu’s work here is especially striking). Almodóvar has always been a favorite of mine, and if he isn’t already, I think it’s time he is considered alongside some of the masters working today, even if many of his stories lean more toward lighter and colorful material.
The film is opening today at the Landmark Century Center Cinema and River East 21.